Natasha Ali is uncertain but interested in Ryan King’s environmental satire, Green Alert

Coming into Green Alert, I was told the show would be an event. A statement like that is supposed to prepare you for anything. The concept seemed compelling enough – a terrorist cell threatening nuclear war if the USA don’t solve climate change. It’s a subject that needs to be talked about and more importantly, it’s a subject that’s hard to make exciting.

Global warming involves too many people and there’s no clear solution to the problem so creating a story around it is hard. There’s so many villains and culprits from hundreds of years of human history. And tension is pretty much impossible to create, at least for now. So, when I heard the plot, I thought it had potential. It added a scarier time limit and its characters had actual power over the situation.  The usual helpless attitude surrounding our most likely apocalypse didn’t apply. I found that interesting.

Well, I was not prepared. I repeat, I was not prepared for this show.

Where do I even start?

Characters. I think going through the characters is the easiest way to explain. This whole show is more or less five stereotypes representing parts of the US government sitting around a table having a very intense business meeting. At the head of the office we have Sammy French, playing the role of the incredibly useless President. French is a great actor and he pulled laughs from the audience where he could. He just wasn’t given much to work with and had a surprisingly small part to the overall plot.

Then there’s Olivia Swain, acting out a no-nonsense competent Vice President. She was the reasonable and logical foil to other extravagant characters. Unfortunately, it made her rather boring. She played her part well and maybe if there’d been more interaction between her and French, an interesting dynamic could’ve been created. But the script liked to focus on the other characters opinions more so these two ended up feeling a bit side-lined throughout. Strange considering they were the two most powerful people in the room. But who knows? That was probably the point.

Charlie Howe performed his character brilliantly. I loved his voice and reactions. But the jokes, they didn’t land. I honestly can’t say why. Maybe they were just so blatantly racist, xenophobic and sexist that they didn’t feel very clever. The same goes for John Duffett’s on screen priest. Fizzy Raby filled the role of the annoying health conscious ‘vegan but not really’ stereotype that’s only really become a stereotype in the last few years. I thought she did great but most of her lines were dedicated to rattling off meaningless information about global warming that most of us already know about. A lot of the dialogue was like that. And it killed off any personality she could have had.

Aaron Rozanski’s environmental activist persona took up the majority of outbursts and emotional rises and falls within the show. The problem was he already reached breaking point midway through and it meant his character had nowhere to go. He just ended up yelling. A lot. Or pouting. A lot. Or stroking his hair. A lot. Very well-acted yelling, pouting and vigorous stroking. But not realistic.

I think that was the biggest problem. These characters acted so weird at times, contradicted themselves, didn’t talk or react like real humans. And because this was supposed to be a satire and not something truly absurd, it didn’t sit well.

I could go on but it’s starting to sound like I hated this show. I didn’t. At all. The accents were great, the tech was interesting and while the staging and directing Owen Kennedy set up was minimal, it made sense for the nature of the story. Some valid points were brought up and it did accurately show how complex climate change can be.

It’s just frustrating. Because Green Alert almost worked. With a few more rehearsals, a tighter script and more relationship development between characters, it could have been a really, really funny satire. Maybe it would’ve worked better if it was British parliament, because some of the dry humour might have landed more. Or if the terrorists had a bigger role or any kind of details added to them. Or if the ending wasn’t so insane and out of nowhere. I don’t know.

Ryan King put in his writer’s note that writing this play has given him hope about the climate crisis. All it did for me was show how idiotic humans can be when it comes to a high-stakes game of life and annihilation.

Green Alert is part of General Programme 3 at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College, at the Durham Drama Festival.